Friday, March 17, 2006
The elusive, mythical Shamrock Shake
It wasn't going to happen again, not this year. McDonald's has long offered triple-thick "Shamrock Shakes" around St. Patrick's Day, but as the treats have become more elusive in more recent years, they've garnered a cult following on a level similar to Tori Amos, the simple difference being that people will still buy Shamrock Shakes when they hit 40. The desserts were sold at virtually at every McDonald's restaurant in their heyday, but their current range is far smaller, far more depressing. Since I started X-E, I've spent five years worth of March months crying in my filth, reading the endless notes from the fortunate many who live in areas where the Shamrock Shake is still given its yearly dose of respect. You see, where I live, there are no Shamrock Shakes. Not during December, May or November. Not even during March.
There is a significant Irish population in my town. There is a significant number of McDonald's restaurants in my town. Yet, there are no Shamrock Shakes. Not even during March. It's a fact that haunts me year after year, and a fact that doesn't process as such because, year after year, I hit every McDonald's in the whole damn city...just to be safe. As you might guess, this whole thing has become more than a simple pining for a good milkshake. It's a war. It's a life goal. It isn't so much about finding and devouring a Shamrock Shake and it is about just finding a Shamrock Shake, and this year, my resolve was strong and very proud of someone else's heritage: I was going to find Shamrock Shakes, even if I had to invent solar megaboots and electro-jump to fucking Ireland, where all the McDonald's restaurants serve blood sausage Big Macs on god damned soda bread.
I have a buddy at work who shares the obsession and the depression. Last year, we exploited the fact that nobody ever really mandated a lunch break time limit for us, and scoured New York City on the hunt for Shamrock Shakes. We had to have hit at least 4,000 McDonald's restaurants that day, and this includes prestigious areas where they still make McVeggie Burgers and tempt borderline racial activists with the Lamb McSpicy. All that, and we couldn't find a single Shamrock Shake. A week or so ago, he strolled into my cubicle-without-walls with a demeanor of pride and spite. "I got 'em," he said. "They're at that shitty, disgusting McDonald's you pass on the way into Atlantic City."
Motherfucker. So, we had a location. And he had a Shamrock Shake. Good for him. Despite some preliminary hopes, reality sunk in and I realized that a car ride to Atlantic City was absolutely not going to be in the cards for me in time for St. Patrick's Day, which isn't necessarily the cutoff point for Shamrock Shake Sales, but there's no sense in eating them after that because there won't be anyone left to be jealous of you. I would've driven 45 minutes on good word that a certain Ronald Roost held my ticket to ride, but I couldn't justify driving a four-hour round trip just to be able to tell my work friend, "I'm as good as you."
Thus began my research. Beginning with exhaustive online search engine sessions and ending with a bed of stupid phone calls, the free moments of my days and nights have recently been spent having phone conversations like this:
THEM: Hello, McDonald's, how can I help you?
ME: Do you sell Shamrock Shakes this year?
THEM: Excuse me?
ME: Shamrock Shakes. Do you sell Shamrock Shakes this year?
THEM: We have milkshakes.
ME: But are they green?
THEM: We are sending the police to come shoot you.
The McDonald's seen above was my last chance. I'd gone to all the others. I'd called every McDonald's in a 40 mile radius except this one. It got to the point where I was asking about Shamrock Shakes at Burger King, where worker bees do not respond well to flippancy. But this...this was just a mall McDonald's. A Spartan affair. A place that swears you said "cheeseburgers" no matter what you order because that's all they have to sell you. I was cautiously optimistic, and because it's such a cool sounding term, I lowly mouthed it to myself, right there in the mall. "Cautiously optimistic, cautiously optimistic." I got beat up for it.
Cautiously optimistic, I slowly marched towards the Last Hope of McDonaldland. My whole life flashed before my eyes, or in my head, and not just the decisively good and decisively bad stuff, but weird stuff, too. Like how I used to think that the 'cordin to our new arrival portion of the Mr. Belvedere theme referred to Wesley's birth and subsequent impact on his family's lives, when it would later be clear that the line referenced Belvedere himself. I don't know how the surly men knew what I was thinking about, but I got beat up for that too. Point is, the life flashing stuff reminded me that, to find a Shamrock Shake, perhaps I needed to understand its history first.
Presenting, the first-ever commercial for Shamrock Shakes. In its quintessential form, McDonaldland was a heavenly place where all of the chain's advertising mascots, from Ronald all the way down to Officer Big Mac, spent years going on thirty-second adventures and telling us what to eat. Though remnants of this happy land still exist in the decor of certain McDonald's restaurants and Internet tributes, the company has dropped everyone but the clown from their ad campaigns. Nowadays, McDonald's commercials geared towards kids generally feature Ronald and real children of real mixed ethnicities exercising in real world situations, partly to offset any fingered blames for the children's obesity epidemic, and partly because somebody high up at McDonald's thought that the webcam-esque shots of Ronald McDonald playing a generic DDR game would totally resonate with today's youth.
There hasn't been a Shamrock Shakes ad in years, but there hasn't been a Shamrock Shakes ad like this in decades. We kick off with Ronald and Grimace prancing through one of the many garden parks of McDonaldland, curious as to why everything's gone green. The butterflies are green, there's green footprints everywhere, and...well, that's pretty much it, but they're way impressed. I'd forgotten how crude Grimace looked in his early years, with oversized plastic googly eyes and felt eyebrows. He also seems less out of shape than later versions of Grimace; while he is indeed pear-shaped, this Grimace seems to attribute that more to an overall species body structure, while later Grimaces just looked like big fat slobs. As Ronald picks up one of the green footprints for closer inspection, I'm left amazed at how straight-facedly he was able to do that: It wasn't shtick, it wasn't played for laughs. Ronald just picks up footprints because that's what you do in McDonaldland. Wait until you find out who they belong to...
Uncle O'Grimacey! Whether he's a legit blood relative of Grimace or not is never clearly insinuated in the commercial, but the boys are nevertheless beside themselves to see Uncle O'Grimacey, whose appearance can only mean one thing: The return of Shamrock Shakes! O'Grimacey speaks in terrible Comedy Irish, sized and shaped like Grimace but with fuzzier, lime green fur and a vest lifted from an overweight Macy's cashier. A green fedora seals the deal and transforms Uncle O'Grimacey into a pop phenomenon, and Ronald decides that they should all celebrate with a round of you-know-whats at the local McDonald's. The implication is that it would be Ronald's treat, but I call bullshit, because everyone knows Ronald doesn't have to pay at McDonald's.
While Uncle O'Grimacey is a tad nightmarish on one hand, I must admit that he's also kind of infectious. He's one of those "cute" monsters, like Godzooky, or Gizmo, or old man Rolly Forbes from Amen.
As the gang settles outside McDonald's for a serious exercise in shake-eating, Uncle O'Grimacey leads the troops in the official Shamrock Shake theme song: "Shamrock Shakes, they're a beautiful green! The most beautiful green that we've ever seen!" Those aren't just the partial lyrics, either -- it's the whole song. Two damn lines. If time was an issue, couldn't they have trimmed five seconds from Ronald freaking out over the green butterflies to add another verse? I understand the theory behind leaving people wanting more, but come on...two lines? Only Fatboy Slim can get away with calling two lines a song.
The scope of McDonald's advertising campaign has critically shifted away from actually mentioning their food during the commercials. If they do, it's usually just to let everyone know that they SELL SALADS because it gets them off the hook for everything else they sell. They can get away with lard-related info more in the adult-targeted ads, but even so, it'd be really surprising to see any McD's television commercial highlight the return of a deathly unhealthy milkshake in this day and age. McDonald's food has in some ways become just another drug. It's easy to score, but you're not supposed to talk about it.
Click here to download the Shamrock Shakes commercial! (Thanks, Mystie!)
If Grimace can land himself a Shamrock Shake through nepotism, surely I can do the same by will of sheer drive and ambition. I refuse to go on living knowing that Grimace can do anything better than me, even if it's just finding Shamrock Shakes.
It was an unusually hot Saturday morning, and I was wearing a black sweater absolutely coated with cat hair. I hadn't shaved in a week. I was wearing sneakers with unsightly paint splatters all over them. And I was taking pictures of a McDonald's restaurant. In a crowded shopping mall. It wasn't among my proudest moments, but if McD's had what the heart wanted, it very well could've transformed into one. Hesitant to go inside in fear of crushing disappointment, I lingered from a safe distance for a few moments, making private deals with God. He didn't tell me he was listening, but he didn't tell me he wasn't listening, either. I stepped forward. One foot in front of the other, because I hate people who walk like ducks.
When my eyes adjusted and made sense of the portion of the marquee circled up above, I realized that the key to getting anything in this world is promising God that you'll build churches. I didn't say what size churches though, God. So start making people small enough to worship your ass in a 2D construction paper church.
It looked like...it could be...it might be...it was possibly...it very well may have...IT WAS! SHAMROCK SHAKES IN THE WOODBRIDGE MALL! SHAMROCK SHAKES -- THEY'RE A BEAUTIFUL GREEN! THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GREEN THAT I'VE EVER SEEN! I spun, collected myself, and spun back in the right direction. In the distance, a child pointed at me and said, "Michael Jackson."
According to McDonald's website, the Shamrock Shake was born in 1970. This may or may not be true, because the website also claims that they're only sold in Ireland. The shakes are said to be "triple thick," tasting very much like chocolate chip mint ice cream melted down into milkshake form with the chocolate chips removed. So I guess we'd just call that "mint ice cream." The sign features a shake (which admittedly looks a lot cleaner and better represented than what the goo machine actually craps out) surrounded by a crown of mint leaves, and why the fuck that crown isn't made of clovers, I have no possible explanation.
As I waited on line for my shot at destiny, I noticed that a good amount of in-store eaters had ordered themselves Shamrock Shakes. I refuse to believe that so many people make McDonald's milkshakes a part of their biweekly fat fest, and attribute this high number solely to the irresistible promise of a limited edition toxic green milkshake.
My order-taker doubled as my drink-getter, and as I saw the holy pistachio piss pour into a cup that would ultimately be mine, my heart clogged with pride. We read, we hear and we see turmoil in this world everyday. We're led to think that it's time to collect our losses start civilization anew. It's insisted that cosmic deities will respond to our eventual global explosion with a half-interested "good riddance." I don't believe it, though. A world with Shamrock Shakes still has something to offer. We just need to make sure that everyone causing us trouble has access to them, because it's impossible to think of trouble when you're sizing up a Shamrock Shake. They're the most beautiful green that you've ever seen.
The green and white galaxy becomes a more unified green after mixing, and though the flavor can never live up to the hype, Shamrock Shakes are pretty darn good. The minty marvels are only available for a limited time, and only available at participating McDonald's restaurants, and only available at participating McDonald's restaurants with a working milkshake machine. Do not take them for granted just because granting is what leprechauns do and you're convinced that leprechauns have a hand in making Shamrock Shakes, because they don't. Also, word to the wise: Stick with the small or medium-sized shakes. I ordered a large, and I swear, there was enough Shamrock Shake for me to swim in. Great. Now I have to end this article early because I want to swim in Shamrock Shake.